The Caldwell Council has picked a controversial property on Personette Street as a potential open space acquisition.
The council voted 5-0 Tuesday to explore buying 27 Personette St., the longtime location of the Knights of Columbus Hall, which is back on the market after a recently fell through. Councilman John Kelley abstained from the vote, which occurred late Tuesday night after the governing body came out of executive session.
Caldwell has until the end of the year to use or lose more than $300,000 in Green Acres funding, according to Mayor Ann Dassing.
The council has contracted with the Land Conservancy of New Jersey, a firm that assists municipalities with obtaining Green Acres funding. Dassing said there are more than a dozen steps required to get Green Acres dollars and the Land Conservancy of New Jersey would monitor and help carry out those steps for the borough.
The Knights of Columbus Hall is listed by Gartland Realtors of Fairfield for $250,000, according to the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service. The lot size is 75' by 114'.
The property is owned by an entity called the Columbian Club because the Knights of Columbus are forbidden to own real estate, has been for sale for more than two years. The club can no longer afford the building where it has met for decades due to diminishing membership.
What was once the site of regular club meetings and activities, as well as a popular rental space for parties, has stood vacant for months—and some vocal residents would like to keep it that way.
When the Knights dropped their selling price significantly earlier this year, Life Source Church made an offer. The use of the building as a church is permissible under the current zoning.
Life Sourcein April. Their plans did not include increasing square footage of the one-story building and therefore they were not required to create parking. There is no parking on the existing lot.
Residents, who were growing accustomed to the empty building and quieter neighborhood, voiced their opposition at both recent council and Planning Board meetings. They said there’s a lack of adequate parking on the block to begin with which would only be exacerbated by church activities.
Personette Street resident Hilda Moore presented the council with a petition Tuesday night she said contained more than a 100 signatures of residents of Personette, Kirkwood Place and Orchard Square. The petition asks the governing body to "initiate an ordinance that prohibits the sale of rental, conveyance or by any other methods the establishment of any religious congregation...and also entertainment or business, commercial purpose within this residential neighborhood."
Opponents have been told repeatedly that the zoning ordinance cannot be changed legally to prevent a church or other house of worship from moving in, an illegal practice called "spot zoning."
“You can’t zone to a wish list, you can only zone to what exists,” Borough Attorney Greg Mascera said Tuesday.
Caldwell Councilman Tom O’Donnell proposed the resolution to consider purchasing the land and demolishing the building.
“I think it’s in the town’s interest,” O’Donnell said.
Mayor Dassing said there would be costs to consider, including remediating soil from where an oil tank was removed and dealing with asbestos in the building.
Other properties being considered for open space are on Forest Avenue, Wakefield Place and Arlington Avenue, Dassing said.